Camille Goutal is not just any perfumer, she is perfume royalty and the purveyor of many a young woman's scent fantasies. The daughter of the late Annick Goutal — a woman responsible for creating fresh, elegant scents — Camille has been carrying on her mother's legacy since her death in 1999. Along with Annick's former assistant Isabelle Doyen, Camille is intent on distilling the memories and emotions of life into perfume bottles, and keeping the 35-year old brand interesting to new customers.
In person she is quietly chic, warm and engaging, with more than a passing resemblance to her beautiful mother, despite being fair-haired. When I explain to her that in Singapore's oppressive humidity one often thinks twice before spraying on a heady scent, she says, "When the weather is warm, I never spray a fragrance on my skin, but on my clothes, my hair or my scarf." Why didn't we think of that earlier! Here she tells us more about how the brand started and the direction for the house's latest perfume, Rose Pompon, a fresh and playful take on the rose.
How did your mother, Annick Goutal, get into perfumery?
My mother had seven other siblings, and her father was very strict, but he appreciated art and music. When she she was young, my grandfather decided that she would train as a pianist, and she practiced eight hours a day. But he also owned a candy shop and during the Christmas period, my mother and the other children would have to help tie the ribbons on the bags of chocolates for the clients.
That's why my mother has bows on the bottles — you can see parts of her history reflected in the brand. When she was 20 she went to London and became a model. She was discovered by David Bailey, who was a friend of the family she was staying with at the time. She thought modelling was fun, but not very interesting. She wanted to do something else, so she started to sell skincare with my godmother and as they wanted to add fragrance into the skincare, she went to Grasse where she discovered the world of perfume.
She opened her first shop in 1981. At that time, there were only big brands and everyone was copying everyone else. When Annick arrived on the scene, it was mostly men working in perfumery and it was a very mysterious art. She decided to create scents inspired by her emotion and memories. At that time, there were only a few smaller, niche brands like Diptyque and L'Artisan Parfumeur in France. She had success because her ingredients were high quality. She was never looking at the cost, only at the quality. And in Paris, they could see the difference.
What is the identity of the brand?
First it's about emotions, memories and femininity. There is a classic aspect, if you look at the bottle, but what's inside is not traditional. We really work with our emotions. I'm the in-house perfumer, along with Isabelle. But for Rose Pompon, we worked with a young perfumer, Philippine Courtière.
How do you start the process of perfume creation?
There are many ways of working. We can start with an ingredient that we like and create it the way that we would like it to be. Isabelle and I may start the formula with a flower, and we smell everything together, so there's a balance. A fragrance can also be inspired by a memory or perhaps a feeling that we experience in our travels. For example, when I went to Mauritius, I created Songe, which means daydream. I love this scent the most from all my creations, as I did it for myself. It's the smell of the frangipani tree at dawn when the sun is setting and you're at the beach. It took me five years to create Songe. It was hard to combine the idea of the sun, with the idea of night arriving.
The third way of working is to be inspired by something that you see in you everyday life like the books that you've read and the movies that you watch. And one day you just wake up and you have an idea.
How have the average customer's taste changed over the years?
Fragrance design has changed. It's more pure and clean. The niche market has also exploded! From a customer's point of view, they are really looking for quality. They can smell and feel the difference between a mass market and a quality perfume, and that's interesting.
What are some of the brand's signature scents?
One is Petite Chérie. My mother created Eau de Camille for me when I was 8, she also created Eau de Charlotte for my sister. When I was 18 she was working on Ce Soir ou Jamais and she had been working on it for so long... she was obsessed with this fragrance. Once she was weighting the formula, she made a mistake and added too much pear essence. But she found this new creation very nice and it inspired to her to create Petite Chérie. It gave her the idea of the fresh, juicy pear, the softness of the peach and the notes of fresh-cut grass. She used to call me petite chérie.
Ce Soir ou Jamais is another favourite. Men love this fragrance. It translates to 'tonight or never'. It's one of the most representative of the brand, though it's not the most famous. It has a complex approach and is feminine, mysterious and beautiful.
I love white flowers so I personally love and wear Un Matin d'Orage. It's the scent of the gardenia bush in Japan after the rainy season, when it's very warm and the rain stops and you have all the scents mingling. The Eau de Toilette is fresher and the Eau de Parfum (EDP) is more round. I prefer the EDP, it's nice on the skin and there is more vanilla.
Tell us about the concept and creation behind Rose Pompon
We have four different rose scents already (including Petite Chérie and Rose Splendide) , and it's kind of an eblem of the house, but we wanted something younger, fun and easy to wear. In France, there is a flower that grows everywhere in Spring and it looks like a pom pom. We had this flower in mind and we wanted to imagine a young Parisian girl that is sexy, fun and cute, but not too much so. It's the romance of a young woman.
We worked with Philippine Courtière, as we wanted to have a new vision on roses. It's very fruity with cassis, blackcurrant and raspberry and bottom notes of cedar wood, white musk and patchouli. It's a fruity-floral, but a bit more sugary. It was nice to have a young woman work on this, but she also had to fit in with the vision of the brand. There were some ingredients that she wanted to include which were not for Annick Goutal. For this scent we had a vision of a young woman, so it was nice to have a young woman actually create it.
It's important to stay in your time, and having new customers is key, otherwise the brand just dies. I want to continue to work with passion, emotion and good ingredients, but it is always good to offer scents that are attractive to younger people. Perfumes are simply a question of pleasure and fun.
Available at Escentials